Morag Murray is a regular runner at Inverness Parkrun. Her personal best for this 5km time trial is 20 minutes 42 seconds. She had her first baby eleven weeks ago and last week she ran the time trial in under 23 minutes. This is unusual and not necessarily advisable for most post partum women, yet she is able to do this as she trained throughout her pregnancy and feels fit and able.
In this interview Mo talks about how she got into fitness, her journey with her body image and food, and how she has adjusted through pregnancy and motherhood.
Although we are sisters we never really spoke about our shared struggles until quite recently so this interview has been a really interesting project for me. I hope you enjoy.
Hey Mo, Thanks for agreeing to do this interview. Perhaps you could begin by telling us a bit more about yourself – job, interests, family life etc.?
Of course! I’m currently enjoying maternity leave from my job as a speech and language therapist, having giving birth to my daughter, Rae, eleven weeks ago. I’m very interest in fitness and due to my personal circumstances, training during and after pregnancy. I am also very interested in all things nutrition, and as such I can regularly be found in the kitchen experimenting with ways to make protein snacks that satisfy my palate and body weight composition.
When did you first get into exercise and why?
I started exercising regularly when I began my job over ten years ago. This consisted of fitness classes after work as a way of de-stressing and switching off from work. I continued this for years without any obvious improvement to body composition.
Did this bother you? How did you feel about your body at the time? Were you trying to change it as well as using exercise to de-stress?
It didn’t particularly bother me as far as I can remember, I didn’t have any particular body image issues at the time, but I got quite frustrated if I had to miss a workout for any reason! I felt pretty healthy but was always keen to see the number on the scale go down. There is a bit of contradiction there but that is how I remember it – I cared about my weight but I think it was just in a way that most people do.
What about running?
My nephew, Lewis, got me into running by dragging me out for a run every morning on holiday! It hurt so much I knew it had to be doing me some good! I started strength training around the same time, and gradually felt my body composition to be improving – I was beginning to lose body fat and build some muscle.
When was this? What is your running and training schedule at the moment?
I started running about four years ago. At the moment I run for about thirty minutes five times a week, and take Rae in her buggy for the occasional (slow) jog. I strength train twice a week at the gym and do some light body weight exercises at home five days a week.
How do you manage this as a mother of a young baby?
I go for a run when my husband gets home from work – I really look forward to having that time to just to unwind. Sometimes I run hill reps pushing Rae in her running stroller, she hasn’t complained yet, bless her!
What is your proudest sporting moment and why?
Probably completing the 100kg ‘duck walk’ in the Highland Strong woman comp last year – it was my nemesis in training and left me with bruised inner thighs for months – which took some explaining to medical professionals! It was the potential humiliation of publicly failing that motivated me to stick with it, despite it being massively out of my comfort zone. The satisfaction of completing it and knowing I’d never have to do it again was well worth the pain!
Have you ever struggled with your relationship with your body and / or food and if so could you tell us more about that?
I absolutely love food. “Sleep is a time machine to breakfast” sums up my relationship with food pretty well! I’m still trying to find the balance between satisfying my appetite and being happy with my body composition. This has been a long journey through deprivation, guilt and shame before getting to an emotionally and physically healthier place where I don’t deprive myself of foods I crave and trust myself not to go on an all-out binge if I allow myself a previously ‘forbidden’ food.
In the past I’ve definitely used exercise as a means of purging if I feel I overate. Just before my wedding I remember binging on marshmallows when making edible table decorations and punishing myself the next day by going for a 7 mile run before back to back Metafit classes.
I’m not as lean now as I was then, but I also don’t obsess about food so much. I’m pretty sure in my carb-avoidant days I used to drool at the sight of a sandwich while the mere glimpse of a cake would make my eyes pop out on stalks!
You mentioned there the binge and purge cycle just before your wedding. I think a lot of women feel pressure to be thin for their wedding pictures – was this what happened to you – or what was it? Can you say more about it? How did it feel to be as lean as you were then? And what was the cost?
I think we are conditioned to want to be the best possible physical version of ourselves for our weddings. Looking back on the pictures I can’t deny I liked being as lean as I was then, but it was exhausting and pretty dull always having to make the low calorie food choices – for a foodie like me it took much of the pleasure out of life!
I put pressure on myself to be skinny and I felt it was the first thing that I judged myself on. I suppose I thought a slender physique equated to being perceived as successful in life, demonstrating the attributes of self control, dedication and education to a certain extent.
Is this still the case? Do you still feel this way?
I think I judge myself in a way that I don’t judge other people – I think other people can look fantastic in all shapes and sizes. If I am honest it is still something that is important to me but I don’t have such harsh standards for myself.
Is there anything that your current self would say to your younger self then if you could?
I would say everything in moderation, if you really want that piece of cake, enjoy it and don’t feel guilty, just keep eating healthily most of the time and you won’t go far wrong.
Can you tell us more about your journey to a healthier relationship with food, body and self and what you have learned that might help others of us who struggle with the same issues.
Just that it’s important to get the balance right – I think when you get to a weight / composition your body is happy at, you are really fighting against it to go too low and you’ve got to ask is it worth it? If you are body-building on stage it may well be, but if not, will anyone actually notice / care?! I wouldn’t have wanted to be one of the women on the Titanic who skipped dessert!
We are both sisters who have struggled with similar issues yet I see nothing in our upbringing or family that would have caused this. Why do you think we both have had struggles?
I think it’s kind of normal to have these kinds of struggles when we are living in a society where the ideal has always been to be stick-thin. Even now women’s magazines have a new diet plan to follow each week. Some people are more resilient to this kind of thing, some less so! I really hope this ideal changes for the next generation.
How did you feel about getting pregnant and seeing the changes in your physique?
I found the first few weeks hard as I cut out exercise entirely and craved carbs. I felt myself ballooning, although I’m not sure whether that was real or imagined! After my first scan at 7 weeks I felt able to exercise – sensibly – again and that helped my body image. I indulged my cravings in moderation as I felt that my body was telling me what it needed to grow this baby. Overall I did eat pretty healthily and I loved seeing my baby-bump grow so much that I took a photo every week to record the changes.
I’ll admit to being a bit disappointed that my tummy didn’t immediately bounce back after giving birth! That’s a new challenge though, and I’m kind of looking forward to tackling it by getting back on track with healthy eating.
You trained throughout your pregnancy and I know you got back into training pretty soon after having Rae. Can you tell us more about what you did, why you did it and what you are doing now? What benefits have you felt? Did / do you feel guilty at all for training as a pregnant or post partum woman?
I ran and continued to strength-train, both of which I got advice on and was given the go ahead as I had being doing them regularly pre-pregnancy. I did a lot of research and took good advice to ensure I wouldn’t be harming my baby, and as a result my strength training was modified. Through my research I learned several things including the fact that training could protect my baby from obesity for the first 5 years and that it would help prevent postpartum problems for me. My labour (though undeniably excruciatingly painful!) was quick and straightforward, with a problem free pregnancy (my midwife described it all as ‘dull’, a little harsh, but I’m assured in this context it’s a good thing!). Overall I found people supportive, but I’m sure I attracted a few funny looks too – it’s still a controversial area and it’s hard to be totally confident in what you’re doing when it’s your first baby.
What would you like Rae growing up to learn about food, exercise and her body?
To not waste her life thinking about food, to know that it’s not her enemy or her bestie, it’s just there to nourish her. I want her to enjoy her food, to eat when she’s hungry and stop when she’s full, much like she does now (though she tends to stop when she falls asleep now…. kind of hope that resolves!). I’d love her to enjoy exercise, and will encourage her to try it, but if not her thing, fair enough.